Web Design and SEO Blog

May201526

To Infinity and Beyond

by Mira Brody in Design, Development

Infinite Scrolling Header

Implementing AJAX infinite scrolling to improve usability.
Infinite scrolling has emerged as a popular web design pattern over the past four or five years — early adopters included Google’s image search, Facebook’s news feed, and Pinterest’s inspiration boards. The appeal is easy to see: using AJAX, content is loaded as a visitor nears the bottom of a page — making sure there’s always more content to see so it’s more likely that they’ll stay on the page. It eliminates paged navigation and the friction of clicking on a link to load a new page in the middle of reading or parsing information. Instead, you just keep scrolling.

Reducing friction, or user inefficiency, has a significant impact on user experience, both for better and, if implemented carelessly, for worse. If implemented well, infinite scrolling will boost interaction, leading to more visitors, better engagement and (for those with a storefront) improved sales. Applying infinite scrolling to the wrong situation will frustrate your users and drive them away.

At JTech, we use infinite scrolling on the news page of our own website, in our custom content management system and in specific contexts for our clients. We don’t believe it’s a panacea, but it’s a great tool and we’ve found ways to work around its problems that can make it the best choice in a number of circumstances.

The Gem Gallery uses infinite scrolling.
The Gem Gallery's product pages use infinite scrolling. 

 Environment is everything.
There are factors that influence where infinite scrolling is appropriate. Images, for example, can be scanned and processed more quickly than text, which takes some time to absorb and is more easily overwhelming. Our developers at JTech had this in mind while building a website for Gem Gallery, in which shoppers can browse their beautiful pieces of jewelry on a single, infinitely scrolling page. We also do this on our own publications page, where you can filter your results by publication type and read through our articles without the barrier of clicking through the next page.

Other companies have noted the effectiveness of these infinite scrolling image searches, such as Pinterest, Flickr and Instagram, to name a few. You may notice a difference when switching between Google’s web and image search results. The largest contrast is that image search uses infinite scroll, while traditional paginated results are used for web search.

The devices being used are an important part of context as well. Due to its friction-less nature, infinite scrolling is particularly useful for responsive design on mobile, as flipping and sliding your finger is much easier than having to click on a small page number or “next” link. Petfinder, a popular website on which users browse adoptable pets by location, species and breed, uses page numbers on their desktop site but infinite scrolling on their mobile application. Whether or not somebody scrolls to view more content is dependent upon the relevance of the information and the ease with which it can be accessed, a subject discussed more thoroughly in a previous blog, Everyone scrolls: designing below the fold.

Issues with infinity.
There are times when we find that infinite scrolling is not the answer. Etsy, the popular eCommerce site for buying and selling homemade items, implemented an infinite scrolling pattern at one time and found that it resulted in less clicks; in this case it limited user interaction. By presenting an overwhelming amount of information to sift through, infinite scrolling can inhibit visitors from reaching the search result or article they are looking for, which will lead to user frustration. Here are some common issues with infinite scrolling and how we’ve solved them here at JTech:

1. Where’s the footer? Scrolling through infinity implies by definition that you never reach a conclusion. So what if you need to reach the website’s footer, where important information or links are provided? Facebook, with its infinite newsfeed design, made it impossible for users to see the footer. On our site, we’ve solved this by anchoring the footer to the bottom of the window so that it’s available regardless of how far you scroll — and by adding a small amount of transparency to the footer itself, a subtle preview is provided of the content that you’re about to scroll to.

2. Search Engine Optimized? Since content on an infinite scrolling page has a single URL, there is concern about search engine optimization (SEO) for sections of content and whether Google’s search algorithm can effectively find page content requested below the initial page load. On JTech’s news page, we’ve embedded p=2, p=3, and so forth, into our URLs for news results so that Google will recognize each scroll load as its own page and take any content — no matter how far down — into consideration when displaying results in their search engine.

J.K. Adams uses a load more button to give users back some control.
J.K. Adams uses a load more button to give users back some control. 

3. Loss of control and bandwidth mitigation. Unfortunately, many users feel a loss of control when they are unsure of how many search results remain, exacerbated by the fact that infinite scrolling typically renders the length of the scrollbar unreliable as an estimative how much content is left on the page. A solution that limits bandwidth consumption (particularly helpful on flaky or capped mobile connections) and creates limits on the amount of content being loaded at once is a “load more” button; a result that also helps in reaching the footer.

We implemented this practice when building an eCommerce site for JK Adams, a high-quality kitchen appliance company based in Vermont. After scrolling by the initial page, there is a "load more results" button, allowing the user to decide how much content they wish to commit to — an example of deliberately increasing friction to help the viewer and conserve bandwidth and regain control. Twitter has an ideal version of this as well: initially presented with a page of tweets, you can choose how much more content to view by clicking their “load more” button.

In our custom content management system, My JTech, we use AJAX to load infinite results when viewing a database, but overlay page numbers and show your progress through the data set (e.g. “page 2 of 4” and “71-99 of 181 records”), allowing you to mark your progress and to quickly jump to the data you were looking for without scrolling through the whole list again. This is possible because we estimate the page length so that the scrollbar is a reliable indicator of your progress through the data set. We've also developed an approach that makes content “disappear” after you’ve scrolled past it, dispelling the sluggishness or clogging that can sometimes be associated with infinite scrolling when too much content is being stored in the browser’s active memory.

It’s important to remember that infinite scrolling is a useful design pattern — serving the needs of those using the website — rather than just something to deploy because it’s flashy. Consider the problem you’re trying to solve (for instance, a large number of products in your storefront that you want visitors to view) and how infinite scrolling might help, then test your results to reveal any new problems you may have created in the user experience.

The encumbrances associated with the AJAX infinite scrolling web development pattern can be overcome by careful consideration of the content and context. When used correctly, it will add convenience to your webpages, which leads to more user interaction. If you have any questions about when it is appropriate, have invented a solution to an obstacle, or have concerns about using an infinite scrolling pattern, feel free to contact us and we’d love to talk.
May201519

Event calendars for useful user interaction.

by Mira Brody in Announcements, Design, Development

YMCA Interactive Calendar

If your company is one driven by the ongoing promotion of various events, an interactive calendar may be a useful addition to your website. JTech’s advanced web developers recently worked with two Montana businesses to add interactive calendars to their sites, both of which have been a huge success.

The Gallatin Valley YMCA color codes their calendar items — class registration deadlines, summer camps and curriculums — in a clean, highly-usable presentation. Clicking an item brings you to a details page and when applicable, a link to an event registration application.

Shipton’s Big R, a full-service farm and ranch supply store, is thrilled with their interactive calendar, which is developed responsively for a great user experience at any screen size. Shipton’s Big R hosts a dizzying variety of local events, from pet vaccination clinics to music festivals to handgun training courses. Because they have five locations in Montana and Wyoming, the event details page has a directions map and allows you to add an event directly to your device’s appointment calendar as well as download an event flyer.

An interactive calendar can be a great addition to your website if your organization or business organizes events and needs a place to promote them that is easily accessible to your customers. Contact JTech to see if integrating a calendar into your website is the right addition for you.
May201513

JTech Welcomes A New Marketing Intern

by Mira Brody in Announcements

Jason Trueblood, JTech's newest business marketing intern.
Jason Trueblood, JTech's newest business marketing intern.
For years now, JTech’s Montana web development team has enjoyed our professional relationship with Montana State University and the MSU students who have worked with us in our internship program. It is always exciting to get hardworking students here in the office as it not only adds depth to their college experience but it also provides us with a fresh set of eyes, new skill and enthusiasm that helps us help online businesses thrive.

Please join us in welcoming Jason Trueblood, our new marketing intern. He is a sophomore majoring in Business-Marketing and although he has lived in Bozeman for a couple years now, is originally from Columbia Falls, MT. Jason views his internship with us as an opportunity to supplement his classwork with some hands-on experience in the business marketing world. When he is not in the office or classroom, Jason enjoys fishing, hunting and playing golf. We’re glad to have you on the JTech team, Jason!
May201513

Measuring Results With Google Analytics

by Mira Brody in Google, Tools & Tips

Google Analytics

Set objectives with Google Analytics Goal Tracking.
If you didn’t already know, Google Analytics is a free tool that allows you to measure the performance of your website. One of its more powerful abilities is Goal Tracking, which allows you to create and measure specific user actions on your website, such as shopping cart purchases, blog article reads, or recommendations on social media. With this information you can measure the effectiveness of ad campaigns, test which of two layouts is best, and determine the success of your business’s social media page.

Our Bozeman marketing team uses Goal Tracking as a part of the website optimization process for our clients, as well as during launch promotion planning. For those of you who are interested in managing these tools yourself, or learning about some of the components we can help you use, here are three of Analytics’ most useful features:

URL Tracking.
There are a variety of ways that people arrive at your site and finding out which are working hardest for you is a crucial part of maintaining a steady stream of visitors. URL tracking allots you the ability to create custom URL addresses for gathering data from specific sources. You can check your search marketing campaigns, track repeating customers and how they purchase the items in their shopping cart, all by assigning these addresses to Analytics to oversee.

Funnels are a useful asset to URL tracking in which you specify a route through the various pages of your website. User data is then collected on the progress and frequency of that route. You use your custom addresses you’ve created and track the path taken to arrive at a secondary address. For instance, you set up a funnel between a particular item to the last step in your shopping cart to track how many people are purchasing that product. This allows you to see whether visitors are completing the funnel in the way you expect, or whether there are problems (such as visitors leaving before checking out), highlighting where improvements can be made in order for the desired transaction to occur.

Duration & Page Visits.
Analytics keeps track of how long a visitor has been on your site based on recorded arrival and departure timestamps. The only drawback of the timestamp system is that the duration cannot be measured until a visitor has left one page for another, even if they have been there for hours. Duration is useful for monitoring how involved visitors are with your content and detecting the speed with which people are navigating. Specifying duration goals, such as setting a limit of three minutes, would alert you of how many people had stayed on a particular page for three minutes or more.

You can also monitor page visits; who is visiting, how often and how quickly they proceed. Statistics gathered from this section will determine the level of user-friendliness your site exudes.

Events.
Events with Goal Tracking are just goal items you wish to track that don’t already fall into one of the above categories. A few items that can be considered Events, are:
  • Social media links that lead back to your site to monitor the effectiveness of your social media campaign.
  • Downloads on your site; are your resources being used?
  • Videos or photo galleries; are they useful or just filling up space?
  • Other external sources of traffic to your website, such as in email blasts or newsletters.
If you can name it, you can most likely track it in Events, down to a single mouse click.

Knowing is half the battle.
Google Analytics provides an extensive set of tools and yields a great deal of information about the success and usability of your website, empowering you to measure the results of your efforts. Without empirical data about how your site is used and which strategies are effective, any effort to improve the way you do business online is tantamount to guesswork.

JTech’s marketing specialists are experienced in crafting digital strategies to suit your unique business needs. Whether you hire us to assist you or plan to do it yourself, Goal Tracking should be an integral part of your marketing efforts. To find out how your company can benefit from the use of Goal Tracking to improve website performance, feel free to contact us.
May20158

JTech Establishes Website Marketing Plan for Goddess of Spring

by Mira Brody in Announcements, SEM, SEO

Goddess of Spring.

Livingston, Montana: Our internet marketing and search optimization team at JTech is currently working with a local essential oils retail company, Goddess of Spring, to help establish an effective digital strategy to increase the visitors and sales on their eCommerce website. Goddess of Spring sells aroma diffusers, essential oils, floral waters, air fresheners, face and body care products for both personal use and to wholesale buyers. They pride themselves on distributing Primavera Life essential oils, a healing plant product that is produced sustainably, organically, and free of GMOs.

In order to help Goddess of Spring improve the customer experience and revenue of their website, our internet marketing team has drafted a plan to generate relevant search traffic for their outstanding products. Market research, analytics and collaboration with Goddess of Spring will lay the groundwork for a comprehensive content strategy, targeting specific search phrases throughout their website. We’re using this online marketing plan as a basis to begin the optimization of their website to attract customers searching for their organic essential oil products.

With a clear vision and a focused website marketing strategy, JTech is helping Goddess of Spring Organic Essential Oils to reach new customers.
May20151

JTech Publishes Article in Speckyboy Design Magazine

by Mira Brody in Development, External Publications

Speckyboy Logo

At JTech, when we’re not developing advanced websites, we periodically contribute to our customers and web development community with insightful articles that educate as well as demonstrate the technical details of our web design process. In order to strengthen this knowledge-sharing campaign we have, for the first time, successfully published an article to Speckyboy Design Magazine: a resource that distributes insightful tutorials, techniques and inspiration written by and for fellow web designers.

Our Human Interface Designer, Felix Wolfstrom, illustrates in his article, Using OmniGraffle for Web Design, the tools offered by the OmniGroup’s OmniGraffle software and how we utilize them in our website development process:
“At JTech, we’ve found that it excels as a tool for creating wireframes and diagramming flowcharts of website hierarchies. Its diagramming and flowchart capabilities have many other potential uses in web development, such as mapping user journeys through the interface.”
Our plan is to continue publishing articles through various resources to participate as industry peers in an exchange of technical expertise.
Apr201522

Google Lowers Search Ranking for Mobile-Unfriendly Sites

by Mira Brody in Google, Industry News, Optimization, SEM, SEO

Mockup of Google's penalized search results.
Mockup of Google's mobile-optimized search results.

Mountain View, California: Many businesses may have opened this week with a lower search ranking for their website than usual. Tuesday, April 21 marks the day Google altered their search algorithm in order to optimize search results for mobile users. The increase in the use of mobile devices, though convenient and providing new business opportunities, can be a source of stress as businesses devote more resources to provide a good mobile site and experience on all screen sizes. A few examples that websites will be docked for in Google’s mobile search results are pages that require users to scroll horizontally and links or buttons that are too small to tap with a finger.

Having a mobile-friendly website is crucial to doing business with the high percentage of customers that are shopping or searching on their phones or pads. Maintaining a high search ranking in Google’s personalized search results for both mobile and desktop visitors can result in an increase in hits from potential clients. Google’s algorithm change is aimed at improving the usefulness of their search results, not at penalization — 64% of American adults own a smartphone(1) and more than 55% of internet traffic in the United States comes from mobile devices.(2) When visitors on a phone or tablet land on a website with a poor mobile experience, they are unlikely to return. In 2015, you cannot afford not to have a responsive website.

If you are curious to learn more about mobile optimization and the many benefits it has to your business, contact JTech or check out our blog post from last month — our Montana web development team would be happy to help you create a responsive website or craft a digital strategy to be sure all of your customers are being reached, no matter what device they are on.

Citations:
(1) Pew Internet: US Smartphone Use in 2015
(2) ComScore data reported by CNN Money
Apr201514

JTech Attends “An Event Apart” Conference in Seattle, WA

by Mira Brody in Announcements, Design, Industry News

JTech attends An Event Apart.

Seattle, Washington: JTech’s president Josh Reynolds had the pleasure of attending the prestigious web design and development conference An Event Apart in Seattle, WA this month. An Event Apart is a two-day conference that travels to eight U.S. cities, allowing the opportunity for web designers to gather and learn from one another. With a dozen speakers present, a wide diversity of topics were discussed: responsive organization and web design, modern layouts, content and client presentation — subjects geared toward developers, designers and web design clients.

Founded by web designers Eric Meyer and Jeffrey Zeldman, An Event Apart was conceived with the idea that great web experiences deserve great learning experiences. By attending An Event Apart and meeting with leaders in our field, JTech is able to gain fresh insight, improve the skills of our employees and make connections in a fun and educational environment in what has been described as “two days of inspiration and enlightenment.” Josh brought back inspiration to share with JTech’s Montana web development team — we are excited to be part of an industry that continues to evolve at lightning pace!
Apr201510

JTech Implements Automatic Domain Renewal

by Mira Brody in Announcements

JTech Providing Automated Domain Renewal.

Your domain is your web identity.
We’ve seen it more than once: a web development client spends years and thousands of dollars building an online brand only to miss the memo when their domain name is up, it expires, and their name is lost into the vast, dark space of the internet. Business owners know that most of the time, losing your domain name can also mean losing a large part of your business — that to lose ownership of your website identity could be detrimental.

In order to prevent this, JTech is implementing an automatic domain renewal system this month to make the entire process less stressful, faster and overall more economical and assured for both our company and yours.

Beware of cybersquatters.
When a domain name expires, the owner usually has a month or so (if they’re lucky) in order to reclaim it before someone else snatches it up. In some cases, the purchase of someone’s old domain is justified. Others, unfortunately, are backed by more selfish motives. Why would another buyer snag an expired domain? There are a few reasons(1):

  • Sometimes someone will purposefully wait for your specific domain to expire in order to buy it, then sell it back to you at a higher price.

  • Sometimes a domain has a high SEO value and the “snatcher” will purchase it for its favorable qualities in Google’s search results.

  • Sometimes there is something to benefit from gaining the company’s domain trademark, such as marketing a competing product or service.

We call the people who do these evil deeds “cybersquatters.” Cybersquatters are people who retrieve domains with bad intentions in order to profit from a trademark belonging to someone else(2).

No matter the person or the cause of loss, however, if you still intended to use the domain for a website or online digital marketing strategy, it is a major inconvenience to you and your company.

Auto renewing is easy.
Now, each year, we will automatically renew all domains on file when their registration is due to expire. To facilitate this, you place a credit card on file with us and we manage future registrations with the same cycle (often every five years) that you’ve ordered in the past. We will then alert you with 60 and 30 day notices of the impending renewal, then send out a notice to let you know that we have completed the renewal of your domain.

There are different cycles of domain ownership to choose from, depending on how long you wish you retain ownership of it and what your budget is. The typical time periods, and the ones we offer, are: one year, three years and five years — with discounted rates for longer-term ownership.

Even with the automatic renewal system it is easy to make changes to your domain with JTech. You can swap the credit card on file, decline the renewal or change your domain renewal cycle by contacting us at east 15 days before your expiration date.

We believe that our automatic domain renewal system will help us provide a seamless, holistic service for your custom website and will be in the best interest of our customers. Please feel free to contact us with any questions or concerns. In the end, automated renewal creates a smoother transaction and one less thing you have to worry about on your to-do list.

Citations:
(1) Dear Rich Blog — Snafu Cause Loss of My Domain Name: Now What?
(2) Wikipedia — Cybersquatting
Apr20158

Benefits of a Custom Content Management System

by Mira Brody in

Custom Content Management

There are a number of online website design services where you can download the framework of a site, pay a monthly subscription fee and fit your business into the slots they leave for you. Generic, pre-built solutions, such as Drupal, WordPress, Joomla and Magento are great for blog writers who need only the very basic necessity of their publications reaching the world outside of their office.

The management side of these sites is not customized to fit a particular type of business, but rather everyone’s. If you are a growing or well-established company trying to fit your unique business into a mold provided to you, you may be doing yourself a big disservice (1).

Custom usability.
The main draw to do-it-yourself sites, aside from price point, is customer usability. WordPress and similar programs offer the attractive promise that the building and maintenance of your site will be a fearless and streamlined process and the need to understand code, HTML or CSS, a non-issue. The more you need to customize your website to fit your business, the less likely you are to find this promise true.

At JTech, we create custom websites and content management systems designed around your business, not the other way around. Because your business is ever-growing and changing, your site should have the ability to adapt to your changing needs in a reasonable timeframe. Most CMSs cannot be reconfigured to accommodate your business’s needs, so once you’ve committed to one, what you see is what you get (2). Our custom web development includes the ability to customize the marketing of your site, extensive quality checks before going live and help promoting your new site launch with announcements, viral content development, press releases, email blasts and analytics to make sure everything is on track.

Behind the scenes, our content management system is built around your business as well, structuring the data’s administrative layout to perfectly accommodate the way you will use and maintain the website. Our capable web development team can even integrate the content management system into your organization’s existing workflow, integrating with the software you already use to keep your business running — managing facets of your business such as inventory, payroll and wholesale partner details.

As well as advanced development to launch your custom site, we provide ongoing maintenance to meet your needs. It is this blend of custom web development and content management that will ultimately deliver the best overall performance and user experience.

Feel secure.
CMS Marketshare Chart
Image credit: Incapsula

Security is always a foremost concern with all things internet. A security breach can mean the loss of private information and the waning of your customer’s trust. Unfortunately, pre-made CMSs are quite often a target. 73% of all WordPress installations have known vulnerabilities and over 170,000 of them were hacked last year (3). All sites shown on the graph to the left are built on very similar, open-source frameworks, which as you can see, are very popular. Because the open-source software powering these content management systems is provided for anyone to install freely, there is very little accountability or help available if your site is hacked.

Custom websites are usually kept on a secure server with a unique codebase, deterring drive-by hackers and creating an additional layer of security for your site and customers.

Customer service when you need it.
Those who utilize common content management systems are frequently unfamiliar with coding — that’s why they’re not developing a custom website themselves in the first place. So who do you go to when something on your site goes wrong? Many CMSs provide support with pages of troubleshooting and FAQs, but not often do they have a point of contact. When your site is down, the internet traffic side of your business has come to a halt and it is a priority to get it up and running as soon as possible.

At JTech, we have a holistic approach to website development. We do everything in-house and after your site is launched, we don’t abandon you. A website is your business’s way of being open 24/7, so we know you want to leave it in the hands of someone you can easily get ahold of. JTech makes it easy with one Montana phone number to call when something goes wrong.

After your site launch, we are available for regular maintenance issues and of course minor content tweaks can be easily managed by you in My JTech. Custom content management makes it easy for you to utilize the site we’ve built for you to its fullest potential. Although basic content management systems may seem tempting as a cheap, easy way to deploy your website or online marketing, think twice before you leap to that conclusion. When it comes to creating an online storefront or business operation, it is always going to be better to invest your money into custom website development that fits your business.

Citations:
(1) Justin Smith: Why Use a Custom Content Management System
(2) Carson Ward: 6 Reasons to Avoid Building Your Own CMS
(3) Orion Cassetto: Why CMS Platforms Are Common Hacking Targets (and what to do about it)